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April 7, 2014

Modesto Irrigation District’s ‘allocation return program’ not getting much participation

A few farmers throughout the Modesto Irrigation District have offered to forgo 2,825 acre-feet of water this year at a fixed price so others can have more.

A few farmers throughout the Modesto Irrigation District have offered to forgo 2,825 acre-feet of water this year at a fixed price so others can have more.

That amount represents less than 1.5 percent of the total that MID expects to deliver to growers this year. Participation might be low because farmers will get $400 an acre under the district-managed program, but might fetch higher prices selling to each other on the open market under a second innovation created especially for this drought season.

MID required farmers to sign up by April 1 for the district-managed “allocation return program,” in which farmers forgo their shares of MID water for $400 per acre. Registering for farmer-to-farmer transfers isn’t due until May 1.

Philosophical differences have split the five-member board, with three favoring open-market sales and the other two fearing bidding wars for water that they say should collectively belong to all customers.

The MID board will discuss today whether the freed-up 2,825 acre-feet should be sold only to those who concurrently signed up for more water in the district-managed program, which would provide each with an extra 6 inches per acre. An option recently pushed by a board minority would provide all of the district’s 3,100 farmers with about a half-inch extra on top of this year’s 24 inches per acre, a report says.

District officials late last week decided to delay the start of irrigation season until next week, or five weeks later than initially planned, because of recent rain. That will enable MID to extend deliveries in the fall, when crops are more thirsty.

Meanwhile, MID staff continues exploring the idea of buying from farmers groundwater pumped from private wells into district canals. Another debate is expected over whether that water should benefit all customers or whether more open-market deals should be allowed.

Before the April 1 deadline, the MID had announced that for liability reasons it would cap water “sold back” to the district for $400 an acre at $1 million, for total potential participation of 5,000 acre-feet; sign-ups yielded offers of 2,825 acre-feet and demand for only 2,755 acre-feet.

For perspective, MID customers renting district wells in individual deals before the irrigation season this year pumped about 6,800 acre-feet. Also, the district expects to deliver via the Tuolumne River and canals about 189,000 acre-feet this year of snowmelt captured in Don Pedro Reservoir, or about 54 percent of last year’s supply. That does not count whatever groundwater the district will pump with its wells or buy from private wells.

In other business, the MID board will consider increasing the electricity it buys from Oregon windmills, from 299 megawatts to 320 megawatts.

Previous partners in the California Oregon Transmission Project, including Santa Clara and Lodi, want out, allowing those remaining, including the MID, the Turlock Irrigation District and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, to absorb their shares and reduce dependence on another costly California source. MID staff projects that the change will cost the district an extra $400,000 per year for 10 years, but says the district should make $300,000 a year for 15 years after that.

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